Clause 30 - General duties of relevant authority

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 4th March 2004.

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Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere 11:00 am, 4th March 2004

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am no expert, but I think that he will find that universities look carefully at the grades that children accomplish at GCSE and at their school reports. They then set a certain level for the students to attain at A-level—an A and two Bs, or two As and a B, or for Oxbridge, probably three As—depending on the level of demand for the university in question. It is guided by academic ability. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to practice; at the moment, many of the popular, over-subscribed and most prestigious universities make higher offers to children from some types of school than they do to children from other types of school. That is what I believe has happened.

Increasingly, children from certain types of school will not receive an offer at all, no matter how well they have achieved in their GCSEs or how many As or A*s they get, because they will run up against the problem that the Government are creating for universities. The university will be afraid that it will not have the broadly based intake referred to in the statutory guidance, on which a judgment will be made as to whether it will get its hands on the variable fee that the Government will allow it to charge.

Universities are under huge financial pressure and that is how I fear—with good reason, I believe—that the provisions will work. There may be Labour Members who would like to see it work in that way; they might find that it is even better than they think it is already. I find myself hard put to say which aspect of the Bill is more obnoxious—the huge amount of debt with which students are being saddled, or the discrimination that is being introduced. If Labour Members will answer my question about whether the measure should deal with applications or acceptances,

I will in the fullness of time be able to tell them what I think about that. However, at present, I consider both elements are discriminatory and against the interests of individual students and the universities.